Skill-based changes in motor performance from attentional focus manipulations: a kinematic analysis

Louisa D. Raisbeck, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Joel Suss, Wichita State University
Jed A. Diekfuss, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Erich Petushek, MSU College of Human Medicine
Paul Ward, University of Huddersfield


© 2015 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. In the present paper, expert and novice law enforcement officers performed a handgun shooting task under varied attention-demanding conditions; outcome (i.e. accuracy, consistency) and movement kinematics were measured (i.e. within and between-trial variability (BTV) of forearm and upper arm absolute angle). Using a dual-task paradigm, we directed participants’ attention towards either a skill-relevant aspect of movement execution or to a skill-irrelevant distractor and compared their data to a single-task control condition. The results showed that experts’ BTV in their upper arm increased during dual-tasks relative to control, but performance was similar across all three conditions. In contrast, novices’ performance was poorer during both dual-tasks relative to control, but limited changes in movement kinematics were observed. This data suggests that attention demanding situations trigger experts’ ability to adapt their movement pattern to maintain end-point control. The data for novices are less clear. Implications for future research are discussed. Practitioner Summary: Expert and novice law enforcement officials completed a shooting task under baseline and attention-demanding situations. Experts outperformed novices under all conditions, but exhibited increased variability in their upper arm position while shooting during attention-demanding compared to baseline conditions. Novices’ movement data remained variable throughout all conditions. The data suggest that experts are able to maintain shooting performance during an attention-demanding situation by adopting a functional movement strategy.